[Ads-l] "fourth dimension" is not "time" to the OED?

Jeff Prucher 000000b93183dc86-dmarc-request at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Mon Jan 5 00:56:24 UTC 2015

The OED's definition for "fourth" states that it has not yet been fully updated since 1897; the "fourth dimension" part looks like it was added in OED2, and presumably therefore dates from the Burchfield supplements (1972-86). I don't know why Burchfield omitted the "time" aspect, though. Possibly it wasn't well-established at that time, or not enough for the editors to think it meritted a separate entry, or it was established but they didn't have many citations for it. (I'd vote for the third, but that's just a guess -- I'm pretty sure fourth dimension=time was pretty common in SF by that time.)

Jeff Prucher

On Saturday, January 3, 2015 5:03 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at ATT.NET> wrote:

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>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
>Subject:      "fourth dimension" is not "time" to the OED?
>Why does the OED's definition of "fourth dimension (under "fourth") 
>not include "time"?  The definition there is merely "a supposed or 
>assumed dimension, additional to length, breadth, and thickness (see 
>dimension n. 3 note)."  And in the note, the only mention of anything 
>beyond L, B, and T is "Modern mathematicians have speculated as to 
>the possibility of more than three dimensions of space."
>Searching for quotations including "fourth dimension", the earliest 
>referring to time is perhaps "1885   Nature 26 Mar. 481/1   Since 
>this fourth dimension cannot be introduced into space, as commonly 
>understood, we require a new kind of space for its existence, which 
>we may call time-space."  (Well's "The Time Machine" is 1895.)
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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